Washington Irving

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Washington Irving
This article is about the writer. For the cricketer, see each named William, died in infancy, as did their fourth
Irving Washington.
child, John. Their surviving children were: William,
Jr. (1766), Ann (1770), Peter (1772), Catherine (1774),
John Treat (1778), Sarah (1780) and
Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, Ebenezer (1776),
Washington.[1]
1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best
known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" (1819) and
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), both of which
appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon,
Gent.. His historical works include biographies of George
Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects such as Christopher Columbus, the Moors and the
Alhambra. Irving served as the U.S. ambassador to Spain
from 1842 to 1846.
He made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. After moving to
England for the family business in 1815, he achieved international fame with the publication of The Sketch Book
of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819–20. He continued
to publish regularly — and almost always successfully —
throughout his life, and just eight months before his death
(at age 76, in Tarrytown, New York), completed a fivevolume biography of George Washington.
Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper, was among
the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and Irving encouraged American authors such
as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was
also admired by some European writers, including Walter
Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey,
and Charles Dickens. As America’s first genuine internationally best-selling author, Irving advocated for writing
as a legitimate profession, and argued for stronger laws to
protect American writers from copyright infringement.

1
1.1

Watercolor of Washington Irving’s Encounter with George Washington

The Irving family settled in Manhattan, New York City,
and was part of the city’s small, vibrant merchant class
when Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783,[1]
the same week city residents learned of the British ceasefire that ended the American Revolution; Irving’s mother
named him after the hero of the revolution, George
Washington.[2] At age six, with the help of a nanny, Irving met his namesake, who was then living in New York
after his inauguration as president in 1789. The president blessed young Irving,[3] an encounter Irving later
commemorated in a small watercolor painting, which
still hangs in his home today.[4] The Irvings lived at 131
William Street at the time of Washington Irving’s birth.
The family later moved across the street to 128 William
St.[5] Several of Washington Irving’s older brothers became active New York merchants, and they encouraged
their younger brother’s literary aspirations, often supporting him financially as he pursued his writing career.

Biography
Early years

Washington Irving’s parents were William Irving, Sr.,
originally of Quholm, Shapinsay, Orkney, and Sarah (née
Sanders), Scottish-English immigrants. They married
in 1761 while William was serving as a petty officer
in the British Navy. They had eleven children, eight
of whom survived to adulthood. Their first two sons, An uninterested student, Irving preferred adventure sto1

2

1 BIOGRAPHY

ries and drama and, by age fourteen, was regularly sneaking out of class in the evenings to attend the theater.[6] The
1798 outbreak of yellow fever in Manhattan prompted his
family to send him to healthier climes upriver, and Irving
was dispatched to stay with his friend James Kirke Paulding in Tarrytown, New York. It was in Tarrytown that
Irving became familiar with the nearby town of Sleepy
Hollow, with its quaint Dutch customs and local ghost
stories.[7] Irving made several other trips up the Hudson
as a teenager, including an extended visit to Johnstown,
New York, where he passed through the Catskill mountain region, the setting for "Rip Van Winkle". "[O]f
all the scenery of the Hudson”, Irving wrote later, “the
Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my
boyish imagination”.[8]

January 1807. Writing under various pseudonyms, such
as William Wizard and Launcelot Langstaff, Irving lampooned New York culture and politics in a manner similar
to today’s Mad magazine.[17] Salmagundi was a moderate success, spreading Irving’s name and reputation beyond New York. In its seventeenth issue, dated November 11, 1807, Irving affixed the nickname “Gotham” —
an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “Goat’s Town” — to New
York City.[18]

The 19-year-old Irving began writing letters to the New
York Morning Chronicle in 1802, submitting commentaries on the city’s social and theater scene under the
name of Jonathan Oldstyle. The name, which purposely
evoked the writer’s Federalist leanings,[9] was the first of
many pseudonyms Irving would employ throughout his
career. The letters brought Irving some early fame and
moderate notoriety. Aaron Burr, a co-publisher of the
Chronicle, was impressed enough to send clippings of the
Oldstyle pieces to his daughter, Theodosia, while writer
Charles Brockden Brown made a trip to New York to recruit Oldstyle for a literary magazine he was editing in
Philadelphia.[10]
Concerned for his health, Irving’s brothers financed an
extended tour of Europe from 1804 to 1806. Irving byThe fictional “Diedrich Knickerbocker” from the frontispiece of
passed most of the sites and locations considered essential A History of New-York, a wash drawing by Felix O. C. Darley
for the development of an upwardly mobile young man,
to the dismay of his brother William. William wrote that,
though he was pleased his brother’s health was improving,
he did not like the choice to "gallop through Italy... leaving Florence on your left and Venice on your right”.[11]
Instead, Irving honed the social and conversational skills
that would later make him one of the world’s most indemand guests.[12] “I endeavor to take things as they come
with cheerfulness”, Irving wrote, “and when I cannot get a
dinner to suit my taste, I endeavor to get a taste to suit my
dinner”.[13] While visiting Rome in 1805, Irving struck up
a friendship with the American painter Washington Allston,[11] and nearly allowed himself to be persuaded into
following Allston into a career as a painter. “My lot in
life, however”, Irving said later, “was differently cast”.[14]

1.2

First major writings

Irving returned from Europe to study law with his legal mentor, Judge Josiah Ogden Hoffman, in New York
City. By his own admission, he was not a good student,
and barely passed the bar in 1806.[15] Irving began actively socializing with a group of literate young men he
dubbed “The Lads of Kilkenny".[16] Collaborating with
his brother William and fellow Lad James Kirke Paulding, Irving created the literary magazine Salmagundi in Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, from 1809

1.3

Life in Europe

3

In late 1809, while mourning the death of his seventeenyear-old fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Irving completed
work on his first major book, A History of New-York from
the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), a satire on selfimportant local history and contemporary politics. Prior
to its publication, Irving started a hoax akin to today’s
viral marketing campaigns; he placed a series of missing
person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian
who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New
York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—
allegedly from the hotel’s proprietor—informing readers
that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to
pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker
had left behind.[19]
Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New
York city officials were concerned enough about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for
his safe return. Riding the wave of public interest he had
created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym
of his Dutch historian—published A History of New York
on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular
success.[20] “It took with the public”, Irving remarked,
“and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America”.[21] Today,
the surname of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional narrator of this and other Irving works, has become a nickname for Manhattan residents in general.[22]
After the success of A History of New York, Irving
searched for a job and eventually became an editor of
Analectic Magazine, where he wrote biographies of naval
heroes like James Lawrence and Oliver Perry.[23] He was
also among the first magazine editors to reprint Francis
Scott Key's poem “Defense of Fort McHenry", which
would later be immortalized as "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States.[24]

The front page of The Sketch Book (1819)

bankruptcy.[28] With no job prospects, Irving continued writing throughout 1817 and 1818. In the summer
of 1817, he visited Walter Scott, beginning a lifelong
personal and professional friendship.[29] Irving continued
writing: he composed the short story “Rip Van Winkle”
overnight while staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart in Birmingham, England, a place
that also inspired other works.[30] In October 1818, Irving’s brother William secured for Irving a post as chief
clerk to the United States Navy, and urged him to return
home.[31] Irving turned the offer down, opting to stay in
England to pursue a writing career.[32]

Like many merchants and New Yorkers, Irving originally opposed the War of 1812, but the British attack
on Washington, D.C. in 1814 convinced him to enlist.[25]
He served on the staff of Daniel Tompkins, governor of
New York and commander of the New York State Militia.
Apart from a reconnaissance mission in the Great Lakes
region, he saw no real action.[26] The war was disastrous
for many American merchants, including Irving’s family,
and in mid-1815 he left for England to attempt to salvage In the spring of 1819, Irving sent to his brother Ebenezer
the family trading company. He remained in Europe for in New York a set of short prose pieces that he asked be
published as The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
the next seventeen years.[27]
The first installment, containing “Rip Van Winkle”, was
an enormous success, and the rest of the work would be
equally successful; it was issued in 1819–1820 in seven
1.3 Life in Europe
installments in New York, and in two volumes in London (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” would appear in the
1.3.1 The Sketch Book
sixth issue of the New York edition, and the second vol[33]
Irving spent the next two years trying to bail out the ume of the London edition).
family firm financially but eventually had to declare Like many successful authors of this era, Irving struggled

4

1 BIOGRAPHY

against literary bootleggers.[34] In England, some of his
sketches were reprinted in periodicals without his permission, a legal practice as there was no international copyright law at the time. To prevent further piracy in Britain,
Irving paid to have the first four American installments
published as a single volume by John Miller in London.
Irving appealed to Walter Scott for help procuring a more
reputable publisher for the remainder of the book. Scott
referred Irving to his own publisher, London powerhouse
John Murray, who agreed to take on The Sketch Book.[35]
From then on, Irving would publish concurrently in the
United States and Britain to protect his copyright, with
Murray being his English publisher of choice.[36]
Irving’s reputation soared, and for the next two years, he
led an active social life in Paris and Britain, where he was
often feted as an anomaly of literature: an upstart American who dared to write English well.[37]
1.3.2

Bracebridge Hall and Tales of a Traveller

1822.
The format of Bracebridge was similar to that of The
Sketch Book, with Irving, as Crayon, narrating a series
of more than fifty loosely connected short stories and essays. While some reviewers thought Bracebridge to be a
lesser imitation of The Sketch Book, the book was well
received by readers and critics.[38] “We have received so
much pleasure from this book”, wrote critic Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, “that we think ourselves
bound in gratitude... to make a public acknowledgement
of it.”[39] Irving was relieved at its reception, which did
much to cement his reputation with European readers.
Still struggling with writer’s block, Irving traveled to Germany, settling in Dresden in the winter of 1822. Here
he dazzled the royal family and attached himself to Mrs.
Amelia Foster, an American living in Dresden with her
five children.[40] Irving was particularly attracted to Mrs.
Foster’s 18-year-old daughter Emily, and vied in frustration for her hand. Emily finally refused his offer of marriage in the spring of 1823.[41]
He returned to Paris and began collaborating with playwright John Howard Payne on translations of French
plays for the English stage, with little success. He
also learned through Payne that the novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was romantically interested in him,
though Irving never pursued the relationship.[42]
In August 1824, Irving published the collection of essays
Tales of a Traveller—including the short story "The Devil
and Tom Walker"—under his Geoffrey Crayon persona.
“I think there are in it some of the best things I have
ever written”, Irving told his sister.[43] But while the book
sold respectably, Traveller was dismissed by critics, who
panned both Traveller and its author. “The public have
been led to expect better things”, wrote the United States
Literary Gazette, while the New-York Mirror pronounced
Irving “overrated”.[44] Hurt and depressed by the book’s
reception, Irving retreated to Paris where he spent the
next year worrying about finances and scribbling down
ideas for projects that never materialized.[45]

1.3.3 Spanish books
Portrait of Irving in about 1820, attributed to Charles Robert
Leslie

With both Irving and publisher John Murray eager to follow up on the success of The Sketch Book, Irving spent
much of 1821 travelling in Europe in search of new material, reading widely in Dutch and German folk tales.
Hampered by writer’s block—and depressed by the death
of his brother William—Irving worked slowly, finally
delivering a completed manuscript to Murray in March
1822. The book, Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists, A
Medley (the location was based loosely on Aston Hall,
occupied by members of the Bracebridge family, near
his sister’s home in Birmingham) was published in June

While in Paris, Irving received a letter from Alexander
Hill Everett on January 30, 1826. Everett, recently the
American Minister to Spain, urged Irving to join him in
Madrid,[46] noting that a number of manuscripts dealing
with the Spanish conquest of the Americas had recently
been made public. Irving left for Madrid and enthusiastically began scouring the Spanish archives for colorful
material.[47]
With full access to the American consul’s massive library of Spanish history, Irving began working on several
books at once. The first offspring of this hard work, A
History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,
was published in January 1828. The book was popular in

1.4

Return to America

5
legation’s chargé d'affaires until the arrival of Martin Van
Buren, President Andrew Jackson's nominee for British
Minister. With Van Buren in place, Irving resigned his
post to concentrate on writing, eventually completing
Tales of the Alhambra, which would be published concurrently in the United States and England in 1832.[57]

The palace Alhambra, where Irving briefly resided in 1829, inspired one of his most colorful books.

Irving was still in London when Van Buren received word
that the United States Senate had refused to confirm him
as the new Minister. Consoling Van Buren, Irving predicted that the Senate’s partisan move would backfire. “I
should not be surprised”, Irving said, “if this vote of the
Senate goes far toward elevating him to the presidential
chair”.[58]

1.4 Return to America
the United States and in Europe and would have 175 editions published before the end of the century.[48] It was
also the first project of Irving’s to be published with his
own name, instead of a pseudonym, on the title page.[49]
He was invited to stay at the palace of the Duke of Gor,
who gave him unfettered access to his library containing
many medieval manuscripts.[50] Chronicle of the Conquest
of Granada was published a year later,[51] followed by
Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus
in 1831.[52]
Irving’s writings on Columbus are a mixture of history
and fiction, a genre now called romantic history. Irving
based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives,
but also added imaginative elements aimed at sharpening
the story. The first of these works is the source of the Irving and his friends at Sunnyside
durable myth that medieval Europeans believed the Earth
was flat.[53] (See Myth of the Flat Earth.)
Washington Irving arrived in New York, after seventeen
In 1829, Irving moved into Granada’s ancient palace Al- years abroad, on May 21, 1832. That September, he
hambra, “determined to linger here”, he said, “until I get accompanied the U.S. Commissioner on Indian Affairs,
Ellsworth, along with companions Charles
some writings under way connected with the place”.[54] Henry Leavitt
[59]
La
Trobe
and
Count Albert-Alexandre de Pourtales,
Before he could get any significant writing underway,
on
a
surveying
mission
deep in Indian Territory.[60] At the
however, he was notified of his appointment as Secretary
to the American Legation in London. Worried he would completion of his western tour, Irving traveled through
disappoint friends and family if he refused the position, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, where he became acquainted with the politician and novelist John Pendleton
Irving left Spain for England in July 1829.[55]
Kennedy.[61]
Frustrated by bad investments, Irving turned to writing
Secretary to the American legation in London to generate additional income, beginning with A Tour on
the Prairies, a work which related his recent travels on
Arriving in London, Irving joined the staff of American the frontier. The book was another popular success and
Minister Louis McLane. McLane immediately assigned also the first book written and published by Irving in the
the daily secretary work to another man and tapped Irv- United States since A History of New York in 1809.[62]
ing to fill the role of aide-de-camp. The two worked over In 1834, he was approached by fur magnate John Jacob
the next year to negotiate a trade agreement between the Astor, who convinced Irving to write a history of his fur
United States and the British West Indies, finally reach- trading colony in the American Northwest, now known
ing a deal in August 1830. That same year, Irving was as Astoria, Oregon. Irving made quick work of Astor’s
awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Literature, fol- project, shipping the fawning biographical account titled
lowed by an honorary doctorate of civil law from Oxford Astoria in February 1836.[63] In 1835 Irving, Astor and a
few others founded the Saint Nicholas Society in the City
in 1831.[56]
Following McLane’s recall to the United States in 1831 of New York.
1.3.4

to serve as Secretary of Treasury, Irving stayed on as the During an extended stay at Astor’s, Irving met the ex-

6

1 BIOGRAPHY

plorer Benjamin Bonneville, who intrigued Irving with
his maps and stories of the territories beyond the Rocky
Mountains.[64] When the two met in Washington, D.C.
several months later, Bonneville opted to sell his maps
and rough notes to Irving for $1,000.[65] Irving used these
materials as the basis for his 1837 book The Adventures
of Captain Bonneville.[66]

Irving at this time also began a friendly correspondence
with the English writer Charles Dickens and hosted the
author and his wife at Sunnyside during Dickens’s American tour in 1842.[76]

These three works made up Irving’s “western” series of
books and were written partly as a response to criticism
that his time in England and Spain had made him more
European than American.[67] In the minds of some critics,
especially James Fenimore Cooper and Philip Freneau,
Irving had turned his back on his American heritage in
favor of English aristocracy.[68] Irving’s western books,
particularly A Tour on the Prairies, were well received in
the United States,[69] though British critics accused Irving
of “book-making”.[70]

In 1842, after an endorsement from Secretary of State
Daniel Webster, President John Tyler appointed Irving as
Minister to Spain.[77] Irving was surprised and honored,
writing, “It will be a severe trial to absent myself for a
time from my dear little Sunnyside, but I shall return to it
better enabled to carry it on comfortably”.[78]

Irving acquired his famous home in Tarrytown, New York,
known as Sunnyside, in 1835.

In 1835, Irving purchased a “neglected cottage” and its
surrounding riverfront property in Tarrytown, New York.
The house, which he named Sunnyside in 1841,[71] required constant repair and renovation over the next twenty
years. With costs of Sunnyside escalating, Irving reluctantly agreed in 1839 to become a regular contributor to The Knickerbocker magazine, writing new essays
and short stories under the Knickerbocker and Crayon
pseudonyms.[72]
He was regularly approached by aspiring young authors
for advice or endorsement, including Edgar Allan Poe,
who sought Irving’s comments on "William Wilson" and
"The Fall of the House of Usher".[73] Irving also championed America’s maturing literature, advocating stronger
copyright laws to protect writers from the kind of piracy
that had initially plagued The Sketch Book. Writing in the
January 1840 issue of Knickerbocker, he openly endorsed
copyright legislation pending in the U.S. Congress. “We
have a young literature”, he wrote, “springing up and daily
unfolding itself with wonderful energy and luxuriance,
which... deserves all its fostering care”. The legislation
did not pass.[74] In 1841, he was elected in the National
Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.[75]

1.5 Minister to Spain

While Irving hoped his position as Minister would allow
him plenty of time to write, Spain was in a state of perpetual political upheaval during most of his tenure, with
a number of warring factions vying for control of the
twelve-year-old Queen Isabella II.[79] Irving maintained
good relations with the various generals and politicians,
as control of Spain rotated through Espartero, Bravo,
then Narvaez. However, the politics and warfare were
exhausting, and Irving—homesick and suffering from a
crippling skin condition—grew quickly disheartened:
I am wearied and at times heartsick of the
wretched politics of this country. . . . The last
ten or twelve years of my life, passed among
sordid speculators in the United States, and political adventurers in Spain, has shewn me so
much of the dark side of human nature, that I
begin to have painful doubts of my fellow man;
and look back with regret to the confiding period of my literary career, when, poor as a rat,
but rich in dreams, I beheld the world through
the medium of my imagination and was apt to
believe men as good as I wished them to be.[80]
With the political situation in Spain relatively settled, Irving continued to closely monitor the development of the
new government and the fate of Isabella. His official duties as Spanish Minister also involved negotiating American trade interests with Cuba and following the Spanish
parliament’s debates over slave trade. He was also pressed
into service by the American Minister to the Court of St.
James’s in London, Louis McLane, to assist in negotiating the Anglo-American disagreement over the Oregon
border that newly elected president James K. Polk had
vowed to resolve.[81]

1.6 Final years and death
Returning from Spain in 1846, Irving took up permanent residence at Sunnyside and began work on an “Author’s Revised Edition” of his works for publisher George
Palmer Putnam. For its publication, Irving had made a
deal that guaranteed him 12 percent of the retail price of

7
How sweet a life was his; how sweet a
death!
Living, to wing with mirth the weary
hours,
Or with romantic tales the heart to cheer;
Dying, to leave a memory like the breath
Of summers full of sunshine and of showers,
A grief and gladness in the atmosphere.[90]

Washington Irving’s headstone, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy
Hollow, New York.

2 Legacy
2.1 Literary reputation

all copies sold. Such an agreement was unprecedented at
that time.[82] On the death of John Jacob Astor in 1848,
Irving was hired as an executor of Astor’s estate and appointed, by Astor’s will, as first chairman of the Astor
library, a forerunner to the New York Public Library.[83]
As he revised his older works for Putnam, Irving continued to write regularly, publishing biographies of the
writer and poet Oliver Goldsmith in 1849 and the 1850
work about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In 1855, he
produced Wolfert’s Roost, a collection of stories and essays he had originally written for The Knickerbocker and
other publications,[84] and began publishing at intervals a
biography of his namesake, George Washington, a work
which he expected to be his masterpiece. Five volumes of
the biography were published between 1855 and 1859.[85]
Irving traveled regularly to Mount Vernon and Washington, D.C. for his research, and struck up friendships with
Presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce.[84]
He continued to socialize and keep up with his correspondence well into his seventies, and his fame and popularity
continued to soar. “I don’t believe that any man, in any
country, has ever had a more affectionate admiration for
him than that given to you in America”, wrote Senator
William C. Preston in a letter to Irving. “I believe that
we have had but one man who is so much in the popular
heart”.[86] By 1859, author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Bust of Washington Irving in Irvington, New York, not far from
noted that Sunnyside had become “next to Mount Vernon, Sunnyside
the best known and most cherished of all the dwellings in
our land”.[87]
Irving is largely credited as the first American Man of
On the night of November 28, 1859, at 9:00 pm, only Letters, and the first to earn his living solely by his pen.
eight months after completing the final volume of his Eulogizing Irving before the Massachusetts Historical
Washington biography, Washington Irving died of a heart Society in December 1859, his friend, the poet Henry
attack in his bedroom at Sunnyside at the age of 76. Leg- Wadsworth Longfellow, acknowledged Irving’s role in
end has it that his last words were: “Well, I must arrange promoting American literature: “We feel a just pride in
my pillows for another night. When will this end?"[88] his renown as an author, not forgetting that, to his other
He was buried under a simple headstone at Sleepy Hol- claims upon our gratitude, he adds also that of having
low cemetery on December 1, 1859.[89]
been the first to win for our country an honourable name
[91]
Irving and his grave were commemorated by Henry and position in the History of Letters”.
Wadsworth Longfellow in his 1876 poem, “In The Irving perfected the American short story,[92] and was
Churchyard at Tarrytown”, which concludes with:
the first American writer to place his stories firmly in the

8

2

LEGACY

United States, even as he poached from German or Dutch
folklore. He is also generally credited as one of the first
to write both in the vernacular, and without an obligation
to the moral or didactic in his short stories, writing stories simply to entertain rather than to enlighten.[93] Irving
also encouraged would-be writers. As George William
Curtis noted, there “is not a young literary aspirant in the
country, who, if he ever personally met Irving, did not
hear from him the kindest words of sympathy, regard,
and encouragement”.[94]

Early critics often had difficulty separating Irving the
man from Irving the writer—"The life of Washington Irving was one of the brightest ever led by an author”, wrote Richard Henry Stoddard, an early Irving biographer[100] —but as years passed and Irving’s
celebrity personality faded into the background, critics
often began to review his writings as all style, no substance. “The man had no message”, said critic Barrett
Wendell.[101] Yet, critics conceded that despite Irving’s
lack of sophisticated themes—Irving biographer Stanley
T. Williams could be scathing in his assessment of IrvSome critics, however—including Edgar Allan Poe—felt
[102]
—most agreed he wrote elegantly.
that while Irving should be given credit for being an inno- ing’s work
vator, the writing itself was often unsophisticated. “Irving is much over-rated”, Poe wrote in 1838, “and a nice
2.2 Impact on American culture
distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation—between what is
Irving popularized the nickname "Gotham" for New York
due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer”.[95] A
City, later used in Batman comics and movies as the name
critic for the New-York Mirror wrote: “No man in the
of Gotham City, and is credited with inventing the exRepublic of Letters has been more overrated than Mr.
pression “the almighty dollar".
Washington Irving”.[96] Some critics noted especially that
Irving, despite being an American, catered to British sen- The surname of his Dutch historian, Diedrich Knickersibilities and, as one critic noted, wrote "of and for Eng- bocker, is generally associated with New York and New
Yorkers, and can still be seen across the jerseys of New
land, rather than his own country”.[97]
York’s professional basketball team, albeit in its more
familiar, abbreviated form, reading simply Knicks. In
Bushwick, Brooklyn, a neighborhood of New York City,
there are two parallel streets named Irving Avenue and
Knickerbocker Avenue; the latter forms the core of the
neighborhood’s shopping district.
One of Irving’s most lasting contributions to American culture is in the way Americans perceive and celebrate Christmas. In his 1812 revisions to A History of
New York, Irving inserted a dream sequence featuring
St. Nicholas soaring over treetops in a flying wagon—
a creation others would later dress up as Santa Claus. In
his five Christmas stories in The Sketch Book, Irving portrayed an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor, that depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he
experienced while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham,
England, that had largely been abandoned.[103] He used
text from The Vindication of Christmas (London 1652) of
old English Christmas traditions, he had transcribed into
his journal as a format for his stories.[104] The book contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.[105]
In Prospect Park (Brooklyn)

The Community Area of Irving Park in Chicago was
named in Irving’s honor. The Irving Trust Corporation
(now the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation) was
named after him. Since there was not yet a federal currency in 1851, each bank issued its own paper and those
institutions with the most appealing names found their
certificates more widely accepted. His portrait appeared
on the bank’s notes and contributed to their wide appeal.

Other critics were inclined to be more forgiving of Irving’s style. William Makepeace Thackeray was the first to
refer to Irving as the “ambassador whom the New World
of Letters sent to the Old”,[98] a banner picked up by writers and critics throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
“He is the first of the American humorists, as he is almost the first of the American writers”, wrote critic H.R. In his biography of Christopher Columbus,[106] Irving
Hawless in 1881, “yet belonging to the New World, there introduced the erroneous idea that Europeans believed
the world to be flat prior to the discovery of the New
is a quaint Old World flavor about him”.[99]

9
Acker, about whom Irving wrote his sketch Wolfert’s
Roost (the name of the house). The house is now owned
and operated as a historic site by Historic Hudson Valley
and is open to the public for tours. The Washington Irving Memorial by Daniel Chester French stands near the
entrance to Sunnyside in the village of Irvington, which
renamed itself from Dearman in his memory, and visitors
to Christ Episcopal Church in nearby Tarrytown, where
he served as a vestryman in the last years of his life, can
see his pew. West, over the Catskills and in the Finger
Lakes, Cornell University's oldest continuous student-run
organization, The Irving Literary Society, is named for
Washington Irving. His name is also frequently mentioned in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 in a recurring
theme where his name is signed by other people to docuJohn Quidor's painting The Headless Horseman Pursuing Icha- ments which triggers several military investigations as to
bod Crane, inspired by Washington Irving’s work.
who Washington Irving is. Throughout the United States,
there are many schools named after Irving or after places
[107]
World.
Borrowed from Irving, the flat-Earth myth in his fictional works. A Washington Irving Memorial
has been taught in schools as fact to many generations Park and Arboretum exists in Oklahoma.
of Americans.[108][109]
The city of Irving, Texas, states that it is named for Wash[112]
Local historians believe that Irving coThe American painter John Quidor based many of his ington Irving.
founders
Otis
Brown
and J. O. Schulze decided in 1902
paintings on scenes from the works of Irving about Dutch
to
name
the
city
after
the favorite author of Otis Brown’s
New York, including such paintings as Ichabod Crane
wife,
Netta
Barcus
Brown.
Schulze, a graduate engineer
Flying from the Headless Horseman (1828), The Return
from
the
University
of
Iowa
and member of the Washingof Rip Van Winkle (1849), and The Headless Horseman
ton
Irving
Literary
Society,
also was partial to the name
[110][111]
Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858).
Irving. The Irving City Council officially adopted author Washington Irving as the city’s namesake in 1998.
The Indianapolis, Indiana neighborhood of Irvington is
2.3 Memorials
named after Washington Irving. The Chicago, Illinois
neighborhood of Irving Park is also named after him. The
town of Knickerbocker, Texas, was founded by two of
Irving’s nephews who named the town in honor of their
uncle’s literary pseudonym. [113]

3 Works
4 References
[1] Burstein, 7.
[2] PMI, 1:26, et al.
[3] PMI, 1:27.
[4] Jones, 5.
[5] “The life and letters of Washington Irving” Archive.org
[6] Warner, 27; PMI, 1:36.
Washington Irving, postage stamp,1940

[7] Jones, 11.

Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside, is still standing, [8] PMI, 1:42–43.
just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, New [9] Burstein, 19.
York. The original house and the surrounding property were once owned by 18th-century colonialist Wolfert [10] Jones, 36.

10

[11] Burstein, 43.
[12] See Jones, 44–70
[13] Washington Irving to William Irving Jr., September 20,
1804, Works 23:90.
[14] Irving, Washington. “Memoir of Washington Allston”,
Works 2:175.
[15] Washington Irving to Mrs. Amelia Foster, [April–May
1823], Works, 23:740-41. See also PMI, 1:173, Williams,
1:77, et al.
[16] Burstein, 47.
[17] Jones, 82.
[18] Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. (Oxford University Press,
1999), 417. See Jones, 74–75.
[19] Jones, 118-27.
[20] Burstein, 72.
[21] Washington Irving to Mrs. Amelia Foster, [April–May
1823], Works, 23:741.

4

REFERENCES

[40] See Reichart, Walter A. Washington Irving and Germany.
(University of Michigan Press, 1957).
[41] Jones, 207-14.
[42] See Sanborn, F.B., ed. The Romance of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington
Irving. Boston: Bibliophile Society, 1907.
[43] Irving to Catharine Paris, Paris, September 20, 1824,
Works 24:76
[44] See reviews in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Westminster Review, et al., 1824. Cited in Jones, 222.
[45] Hellman, 170–89.
[46] Burstein, 191.
[47] Bowers, 22–48.
[48] Burstein, 196.
[49] Jones, 248.
[50] Jones, 207.
[51] Burstein, 212.

[22] Oxford English Dictionary.

[52] Burstein, 225.

[23] Hellman, 82.

[53] Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. Praeger Paperback, 1997.
ISBN 0-275-95904-X

[24] Jones, 121–22.
[25] Jones, 121.
[26] Jones, 122.

[54] Washington Irving to Peter Irving, Alhambra, June 13,
1829. Works, 23:436

[27] Hellman, 87.

[55] Hellman, 208.

[28] Hellman, 97.

[56] PMI, 2:429, 430, 431–32

[29] Jones, 154-60.

[57] PMI, 3:17–21.

[30] Jones, 169.

[58] Washington Irving to Peter Irving, London, March 6,
1832, Works, 23:696

[31] William Irving Jr. to Washington Irving, New York, October 14, 1818, Williams, 1:170-71.
[32] Washington Irving to Ebenezer Irving, [London, late
November 1818], Works, 23:536.
[33] See reviews from Quarterly Review and others, in The
Sketch Book, xxv–xxviii; PMI 1:418–19.

[59] Jill Eastwood (1967). “La Trobe, Charles Joseph (1801–
1875)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2.
MUP. pp. 89–93. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
[60] See Irving, “A Tour on the Prairies”, Works 22.
[61] Williams, 2:48–49

[34] Burstein, 114

[62] Jones, 318.

[35] Irving, Washington. “Preface to the Revised Edition”, The
Sketch Book, Works, 8:7; Jones, 188-89.

[63] Jones, 324.

[36] McClary, Ben Harris, ed. Washington Irving and the
House of Murray. (University of Tennessee Press, 1969).
[37] See comments of William Godwin, cited in PMI, 1:422;
Lady Littleton, cited in PMI 2:20.

[64] Williams, 2:76–77.
[65] Jones, 323.
[66] Burstein, 288.
[67] Williams, 2:36.

[38] Aderman, Ralph M., ed. Critical Essays on Washington
Irving. (G. K. Hall, 1990), 55–57; STW 1:209.

[68] Jones, 316.

[39] Aderman, 58–62.

[69] Jones, 318-28.

11

[70] Monthly Review, New and Improved, ser. 2 (June 1837):
279–90. See Aderman, Ralph M., ed. Critical Essays on
Washington Irving. (G. K. Hall, 1990), 110–11.
[71] Burstein, 295.
[72] Jones, 333.
[73] Edgar Allan Poe to N. C. Brooks, Philadelphia, September 4, 1838. Cited in Williams, 2:101-02.

[95] Poe to N.C. Brooks, Philadelphia, September 4, 1838.
Cited in Williams 2:101-02.
[96] Jones, 223
[97] Jones, 291
[98] Thackeray, Roundabout Papers, 1860.

[99] Hawless, American Humorists, 1881.
[74] Washington Irving to Lewis G. Clark, (before January 10,
[100] Stoddard, The Life of Washington Irving, 1883.
1840), Works, 25:32–33.
[75] “National Academicians”. Retrieved January 18, 2014.

[101] Wendell, A Literary History of America, 1901.

[76] Jones, 341.

[102] See Williams, 2:Appendix III.

[77] Hellman, 257.

[103] Kelly, Richard Michael (ed.) (2003), A Christmas Carol.
p.20. Broadview Literary Texts, New York: Broadview
[78] Washington Irving to Ebenezer Irving, New York, FebruPress, ISBN 1-55111-476-3
ary 10, 1842, Works, 25:180.
[104] Restad, Penne L. (1995). Christmas in America: a History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19[80] Irving to Thomas Wentworth Storrow, Madrid, 18 May
510980-5
1844 , Works, 25:751
[105] See Stephen Nissebaum, The Battle for Christmas (Vin[81] Jones, 415-56.
tage, 1997)
[79] Bowers, 127–275.

[82] Jones, 464.
[83] Hellman, 235.
[84] Williams, 2:208–209.

[106] See Irving, 1828; and his 1829 abridged version.
[107] See Irving, 1829, Chapter VII: “Columbus before the
council at Salamanca”, pp. 40–47, especially p. 43.

[85] Bryan, William Alfred. George Washington in American [108] Grant (Edward), 2001, p. 342.
Literature 1775–1865. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1952: 103.
[109] Grant (John), 2006, p. 32, in the subsection “The Earth
– Flat or Hollow?" beginning at p. 30, within Chapter 1
[86] William C. Preston to Washington Irving, Charlottesville,
“Worlds in Upheval”.
May 11, 1859, PMI, 4:286.
[110] Caldwell, John; Rodriguez Roque, Oswaldo (1994).
Kathleen Luhrs, ed. American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume I: a Catalogue of Works by
Artists Born By 1815. Dale T. Johnson, Carrie Rebora,
Patricia R. Windels. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
[88] Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los
in association with Princeton University Press. pp. 479–
Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 179.
482.
ISBN 0-86576-008-X
[87] Kime, Wayne R. Pierre M. Irving and Washington Irving:
A Collaboration in Life and Letters. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1977: 151. ISBN 0-88920-056-4

[111] Roger Panetta, ed. (2009). Dutch New York: the roots of
Hudson Valley culture. Hudson River Museum. pp. 223–
[90] Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “In The Churchyard at
235. ISBN 978-0-8232-3039-6.
Tarrytown”, quoted in Burstein, 330.
[112] “Declaration that Irving, TX is named for Washington Irv[91] Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Address on the Death
ing.”. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
of Washington Irving”, Poems and Other Writings, J.D.
McClatchy, editor. (Library of America, 2000).
[113] http://irvingtx.net/common/irving-history.html
[89] PMI, 4:328.

[92] Leon H. Vincent, American Literary Masters, 1906.
[93] Pattee, Fred Lewis. The First Century of American Literature, 1770–1870. New York: Cooper Square Publishers,
1935.

[114] Irving’s publisher, John Murray, overrode Irving’s decision to use this pseudonym and published the book under
Irving’s name—much to the annoyance of its author. See
Jones 258-59.

[94] Kime, Wayne R. Pierre M. Irving and Washington Irving: [115] Composed of the three short stories “A Tour on the
A Collaboration in Life and Letters. Wilfrid Laurier UniPrairies”, “Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey”, and “Legversity Press, 1977: 152. ISBN 0-88920-056-4
ends of the Conquest of Spain”.

12

5

6

Bibliography

• Index Entry for Washington Irving at Poets’ Corner

• Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The
Life of Washington Irving. (Basic Books, 2007).
ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7

• Washington Irving Cultural Route in Spain
• Irving letter, Sunnyside, NY at Mount Holyoke College

• Bowers, Claude G. The Spanish Adventures of
Washington Irving. (Riverside Press, 1940).

• Finding Aid for the Washington Irving Collection of
Papers, 1805-1933, at the New York Public Library

• Hellman, George S. Washington Irving, Esquire.
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1925).

• Washington Irving letters. Available online through
Lehigh University’s I Remain: A Digital Archive of
Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera

• Irving, Pierre M. Life and Letters of Washington Irving. 4 vols. (G.P. Putnam, 1862). Cited herein as
PMI.
• Irving, Washington. The Complete Works of Washington Irving. (Rust, et al., editors). 30 vols. (University of Wisconsin/Twayne, 1969–1986). Cited
herein as Works.
• Irving, Washington. (1828) History of the Life of
Christopher Columbus, 3 volumes, 1828, G. & C.
Carvill, publishers, New York, New York; as 4 volumes, 1828, John Murray, publisher, London; and
as 4 volumes, 1828, Paris A. and W. Galignani, publishers, France.
• Irving, Washington. (1829) The Life and Voyage
of Christopher Columbus, 1 volume, 1829, G. &
C. & H. Carvill, publishers, New York, New York;
an abridged version prepared by Irving of his 1828
work.
• Jones, Brian Jay. Washington Irving: An American
Original. (Arcade, 2008). ISBN 978-1-55970-8364
• Warner, Charles Dudley.
(Riverside Press, 1881).

Washington Irving.

• Williams, Stanley T. The Life of Washington Irving.
2 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1935). ISBN 07812-5291-1

6

EXTERNAL LINKS

External links
• Works by Washington Irving at Project Gutenberg
• Works by or about Washington Irving at Internet
Archive
• Works by Washington Irving at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
• Washington Irving’s Sunnyside
• Timothy Hopkins’ Washington Irving collection,
1683–1839(5 volumes) is housed in the Department
of Special Collections and University Archives at
Stanford University Libraries

13

7

Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

7.1

Text

• Washington Irving Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Irving?oldid=673604637 Contributors: Magnus Manske, Tarquin,
Malcolm Farmer, Ed Poor, Amillar, Trimalchio, Andre Engels, Danny, Unukorno, Deb, William Avery, Apollia, DennisDaniels, Pamplemousse, Sannse, Paul A, Mdebets, Ahoerstemeier, Александър, John K, Mxn, Jengod, Wik, Itai, Wetman, Bcorr, SD6-Agent, Dimadick,
Robbot, Pigsonthewing, Kizor, Goethean, P0lyglut, Wjhonson, Walloon, Peterklevy, Giftlite, Dbenbenn, Anym, AtStart, Cobaltbluetony,
Everyking, No Guru, Gamaliel, Mboverload, Antandrus, Kaldari, Sam Hocevar, Ukexpat, Picapica, Adashiel, Flyhighplato, Lacrimosus, D6, Venu62, Discospinster, Rich Farmbrough, Mkgray, Mjpieters, Wadewitz, Bender235, ESkog, Kaisershatner, Pmcm, CanisRufus,
Bobo192, Ruszewski, Infocidal, Enric Naval, Giraffedata, SHC, Ral315, Polylerus, Jonathunder, JesseHogan, Merope, Storm Rider, Alansohn, PaulHanson, Prometheus7Unbound, Mduvekot, Arthena, Atlant, Dukertsay, Hu, Snowolf, Wtmitchell, Cburnett, Yuckfoo, Vcelloho,
Computerjoe, Shimeru, Woohookitty, Daniel Case, BillC, Before My Ken, Otojin, Wikiklrsc, Wayward, DESiegel, Ssj4shippo, Stevey7788,
Graham87, Cuchullain, Icey, Mayumashu, Coemgenus, Koavf, Jake Wartenberg, Linuxbeak, JoshuacUK, Michael Wells, Vegaswikian,
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Phantomsteve, RussBot, DanMS, Raquel Baranow, CambridgeBayWeather, Ritchy, NawlinWiki, Wiki alf, Grafen, UDScott, Robert McClenon, Shinmawa, Banes, Cholmes75, Moe Epsilon, Vivaldi, .marc., MarkBrooks, Nlu, Cjcaesar, Tuckerresearch, Jkelly, J. Van Meter,
Tinlinkin, Pb30, Kestenbaum, Emc2, Spliffy, DVD R W, SmackBot, Roger Davies, Jfurr1981, Eskimbot, Janneman, Commander Keane
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sleep, clown will eat me, WinstonSmith, Addshore, YankeeDoodle14, Decltype, RandomP, Hendrikach~enwiki, Only, Junyor, Wizardman, Ugur Basak Bot~enwiki, Thor Dockweiler, Ohconfucius, Chaldean, Esrever, Rory096, Ser Amantio di Nicolao, John, AnonEMouse,
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KasparBot and Anonymous: 684

7.2

Images

• File:Alhambra_view.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Alhambra_view.jpg License: CC BY-SA 2.0
Contributors: ? Original artist: ?
• File:Commons-logo.svg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4a/Commons-logo.svg License: ? Contributors: ? Original
artist: ?
• File:Diedrich_Knickerbocker.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/96/Diedrich_Knickerbocker.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: Irving, Washington; Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New-York New York: G.P. Putnam, 1849;
frontispiece Original artist: Felix O.C. Darley
• File:Irvington_bust_of_Wasington_Irving.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Irvington_bust_of_
Wasington_Irving.jpg License: GFDL Contributors: Own work Original artist: Beyond My Ken
• File:John_Quidor_-_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane_-_Smithsonian.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/
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14

7 TEXT AND IMAGE SOURCES, CONTRIBUTORS, AND LICENSES

Contributors: This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of a cooperation project.
Original artist: John Quidor
• File:Portrait_of_Washington_Irving_attr._to_Charles_Robert_Leslie.jpg Source:
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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
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• File:Washington_Irving’{}s_headstone_Sleepy_Hollow_Cemetery.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/
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Original artist: U.S. Government, Department of the Post Office
• File:Washington_Irving_and_his_Literary_Friends_at_Sunnyside.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/
6/67/Washington_Irving_and_his_Literary_Friends_at_Sunnyside.jpg License: CC BY 2.0 Contributors: Flickr Original artist: Painter:
Christian Schussele (1824-04-16 - 1879)
Photographer: cliff1066
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Contributors: Rei-artur Original artist: Nicholas Moreau

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